Why You Should Be Open About Your Religion

DSCN0175(2)

Everyone has secrets and some things are better left private. Sharing your thoughts on taboo topics or standpoints can be damaging to your character and it is understandable that one might be reluctant to open up. However, if you have the courage and opportunity to be honest about your religious beliefs, you can make a huge difference at a major crossroads for mankind. Whether you relate to a specific sect of faith or atheism, here are a few good reasons to “come out”.

Challenge Yourself

It is important to challenge your own beliefs more meticulously than anyone else’s. By being open about where you stand, you give others the opportunity to approach you and question why you think the way you do. This will force you to really think about your reasoning. Spend time arming yourself for those difficult conversations. Make sure you are confident in supporting your stance and comfortable with explaining yourself. If you aren’t, then perhaps you haven’t quite made up your mind. By truly understanding the things you believe (or don’t believe) and why, you will be less likely to go on the defensive when someone questions you aggressively. People will find you more credible and respect your opinions if they can tell you have truly put time and effort into reaching those conclusions. Being certain about your religious stance gives you the confidence to challenge others as well.

Support Those Who Share Your Opinion

More people are open about their faith or atheism than ever before. However, there are many who are still afraid of losing their job, being outcast by their friends and families or even being physically harmed because of the things they believe. Giving someone who is frightened of who they are an excuse to be honest and open can be rewarding for you and extremely comforting for them. Set an example for those around you who lack the courage to be transparent about their beliefs, and you can have a major positive impact on their lives.

Oppose Those With Harmful Religious Views

There are countless issues plaguing the world right now which, at their core, stem from some form of religious motivation. There are individuals and groups who have simply molded their religion to brainwash others into supporting the atrocities they commit (though certainly not all religions behave this way). By using your own experiences as a base for your argument against these tyrannical zealots, you can gain support from like-minded people. A group that is motivated by a common goal and united through having aligning beliefs that each individual has decided upon independently, is much more effective than one founded on fear, propaganda and misinterpreted hokum.

Truly Be You

How can you truly feel like you if such a major part of your life is always kept secret? Liberate yourself by telling the world who you really are. I don’t suggest running around wearing a “god isn’t real” t-shirt. People can’t help but get defensive when they feel as if you are coming at them from an aggressive standpoint. Start by asking others what they believe and show genuine interest. You’ll be surprised by some of the responses you get. Even if a friend or family member disagrees with you, they will likely appreciate your honesty. You may find something in common with some of them that you would not have otherwise known about. Not only could you become closer to your friends, but your romantic relationships will be much stronger if your stances on religion are aligned. Seeing the world in the same fundamental way, makes it easier to respect someone and value their opinions. That type of connection is almost certain to increase your compatibility and attraction to a significant other.

Practice What You Preach

Personally, I identify with secular humanism. I believe that humans are inherently good in their disposition and that religion should not replace logic and reason when solving problems or creating government policy.  I think our ethics should evolve based on the needs of our species and should not be derived from religious text. I do not believe in the supernatural or any sort of god, but instead rely on scientific discovery to explain existence and mankind’s role in the universe. I have the utmost respect for those who are religious and truly believe what they say and do. Unfortunately, our world contains a scary amount of hypocrisy and apathy. My hope is that, when it comes to the great unanswered questions of our world, people make up their own minds by researching, debating and discovering things for themselves rather than blindly accepting what they are told is the truth.

How I Found Faith in Atheism

Step On Me

 

“If you don’t believe in God, how do you have faith?” A version of this question comes up in nearly every conversation in which I describe myself as an atheist to someone who is religious. For a very long time, my answer was that I didn’t need faith. My naivety about religion and resentment towards it combined with the hubris I gained in what I thought was the discovery of my own beliefs caused me to act in a more aggressive way toward religion. Not only did I not believe in any god, but I sought out any chance to proclaim it. I was distraught by the idea that I could not persuade others to agree with me (and I often tried). I am happy to have grown, learned and moved away from such presentiment toward theism.

As a child, I prayed, attended religious gatherings and feared god, but I was not religious. I was far too young to claim to be a Christian. People that I trusted and looked up to taught me that god was real and Christianity was the truth. My grandfather was a Southern Baptist minister and I attended sermons regularly. I remember listening to passages from the bible while sitting cross-legged in front of his recliner. When I visited some of my aunts, I was also taken to Sunday school. I accepted it at the time. Because it was extremely taboo for individuals to challenge someone’s beliefs, I did not hear any opposition. However, I was not exposed to religion at home. My mother rarely spoke of god or atheism or even spirituality. She may have just been apathetic toward the subject, but the lack of pressure to believe gave me the opportunity to make the decision myself when I was of the appropriate age to do so. My mother was baptized by my grandfather and identifies herself as a Christian.

As I grew older, the influence of others over me subsided and I began to realize that those thoughts were not my own. While talking with a close friend in high school, he brought up an argument for religion that I could not counter. He was nontheistic, but had always inspired me to question things on a deep level. I began to look beyond my negative experiences with religion. The desire for more conversations and debates on the subject motivated me to learn more about both points of view. I found comfort in coming to conclusions about myself and justifying my beliefs as independent from heritage or coercion. This was only the beginning of a process that I am still actively engaged in.

By the time I reached college I was completely committed to atheism and proud of it. I was passionate and even argumentative about it, but I soon realized that the more intelligent individuals I spoke with were put-off by my attitude toward creationism and its believers. The one-sided, uninteresting conversations that formed around my passion on the subject became tiresome. I searched for opportunities to strengthen my reasoning for my beliefs against religion. Books, magazines, articles, interviews, movies and even music were all places I looked for explanations to the questions I had not yet overcome. I enrolled in a few classes that touched on the ideas of different belief systems. Church services and Bible study sessions along with “free-thinkers” meetings and book discussions on Richard Dawkins’ works were all full of information, emotion and facts.

The most influential experience in my search for truth was my attending an ALPHA course during college. It was a 10 week program that is meant as an introduction to the Christian faith. Each session started with a meal and light discussion. The course leader then presented that week’s theme with stories, videos, infographics and bible passages. Each table was assigned a conversation guide who was given a few questions to keep the chat going within the small groups. At the end of each session, individuals were encouraged to share stories about their past or things they had learned. I was open about my atheism and it did not hinder the quality of our talks. The group was lively, sensitive, respectful and curious. They taught me a great deal and I became very close with a few people who I still call friends.

I have always considered honesty to be one of the most important characteristics of companions and friends. There is a certain beauty in allowing yourself to be transparent to a point of vulnerability. Being truthful and straightforward about my beliefs and the reason behind them has allowed me to learn so much from the discussions I have with people about religion. I refuse to take “I am right” as a stance and always hope to learn something from conversations and debates. Someone saying “I’ll pray for you” no longer makes me angry, but humbled instead. I appreciate the beliefs that others have and do not try to change their minds. Now I simply encourage people to challenge themselves to truly understand not only what they believe, but why. If you are honest and open about your faith, you have the opportunity to be challenged and learn something about yourself.

“Because I was raised that way” is not a good enough reason to spend your life committed to a religion. It is irresponsible for people to label the many belief systems out there as myth without honestly searching for support and reasoning behind the one you choose to observe. So I have a new answer to that question I started with. I no longer see atheism as a lack of faith. I have faith in humanity. Mankind’s ability to overcome obstacles is awe-inspiring and inspirational. Humans can live morally and peacefully without the pressure of religion to do so. I feel that I have a certain responsibility to be open about my atheism. I urge others to search for your own true beliefs and declare them publicly. Gain the knowledge you need to be confident in your choice and never close yourself off to the possibility of learning something new, even if it frightens you. Find something to have faith in and don’t dismiss the faith of others simply because they do not align with yours.